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Board of Trustees Statement on a New Model for the Hampshire College Student Experience

Hampshire College will adopt a bold, distinctive vision to reestablish Hampshire as the leader in higher education innovation

Hampshire College will adopt a bold, distinctive vision to reestablish our College as the leader in higher education innovation. Hampshire will attract more students, improve its perceived value among prospective students, and motivate potential donors to contribute significant resources. The College will once again establish itself as higher education’s unrivaled leader by building a genuinely unique, clearly relevant, and authentically Hampshire approach to the student experience. We will articulate to external audiences the core of this distinctiveness with passion and precision. 

The process led this summer and fall by the Academic Innovation Planning Group and engaging hundreds of Hampshire community members produced an extraordinary richness of ideas for Hampshire’s next iteration. This inclusive community process converged upon two approaches for further consideration. As those two models were discussed in open constituent meetings, it became clear that there was strong interest in considering a third hybrid model that employs aspects of both.

Hampshire College has carefully and thoughtfully considered these potential models for our future Hampshire student experience. The Board of Trustees engaged in conversations with faculty, staff, students, parents, and alums, including College leaders, the leaders of Advancement and Admissions, and with Academic Innovation Planning Group members; and discussions in Executive session.

Under Hampshire’s bylaws, the Board has the authority and responsibility to establish and keep current the College’s mission. Within the parameters outlined below, the Board will support the adoption of any of the three visions (model A, model B, or a hybrid).

  • Model A in the current form offers a compelling revision of current Hampshire College approaches. At its best, our curriculum builds the skills students need to ask rigorous questions, define and manage projects, and work across disciplines to produce innovative outcomes; in its existing form, not every student finds their way to these outcomes. Model A envisions structures that ensure every student will develop these essential Hampshire skills while also nurturing a more collaborative environment for learning. Adopting these reforms would improve the student experience significantly. On its own, however, the Board is concerned that these reforms do not differentiate Hampshire sufficiently, either from its current iteration or the many other colleges who claim to nurture the same skills and outcomes. If the college adopts model A as its framework, the language used to describe this revised curriculum to external audiences will need to expand the appeal of the college, defining the market proposition in terms that are accessible to those not already choosing Hampshire. The community will need to reach congruence between language and descriptions of this approach that will attract financial support and increased enrollment, and the language used in internal communications.
  • Model B in the current form offers a bold and innovative break from common approaches to education. Reorganizing the entire college around several fundamental questions or challenges represents a genuine reinvention of higher education, one that unambiguously embraces Hampshire’s identity as an experimenting, socially relevant institution. To the extent Model B envisions the faculty, students, and staff of the college pursuing these essential challenges in ways that generate potential solutions while producing graduates who become change-makers and innovators, it promises to disrupt how people think about the purpose of college and the possibilities of what undergraduates can do. It is clearly an approach that would excite donors and foundations, presenting the opportunity to attract genuinely transformative financial support, including from funders who may not currently have an affinity for Hampshire. it is crucial that the themes selected have clear appeal to prospective students and supporters, and the College will need to implement a viable process to achieve this outcome. Conversely, a version of Model B that simply modifies part of the current Hampshire student experience around big challenges (e.g., a Division I seminar) but does not involve sustained transformation of the college around these challenges will not inspire growth in enrollment or fundraising.
  • Hybrid Model: Many community members suggested combining approaches to produce a model that is distinctive, powerful, and easy to articulate. One common observation was that while model A presents a “how,” model B offers a “why.” A hybrid model, if the elements of model B are sufficiently strong to genuinely restructure the student experience rather than merely serving as one isolated element (e.g., just a divisional seminar or living learning community), would establish Hampshire as the best undergraduate education both for innovative project work and for students who want to change the world. To ensure distinctiveness and appeal to additional students and funders, a hybrid model needs to include several elements:
    • First, there would have to be opportunities within the curriculum for students to pursue the same challenge across their entire education if they desire that focus, while making sure students are exposed to multiple disciplinary perspectives.
    • Second, the College would need to reorganize itself in a way that ensures these learning opportunities are regularly available and students have opportunities to pursue their challenge in courses and seminars across all three divisions.
    • Third, there would need to be a pathway for students to explore and develop questions not directly related to the core challenges (e.g., there might be theater courses offered in multiple challenge areas – a student wishing to pursue their own question emphasizing theater would be exposed to multiple challenges as they concentrated on theater courses).
    • Fourth, there would need to be flexibility in defining challenge areas to allow Hampshire to be responsive to the contemporary world.

We assume that any model will require a rigorous Division III project and continue to employ narrative evaluations. We believe that each of these models as described above will attract the resources to make us financially viable, which means that each model can be supported effectively for up to 1,100 students, without significant increases to the current size of operating budgets. Implementation will require careful planning to stay within those resources, unless the college receives external funding well above the amount needed to manage the transition back to full enrollment.

With any model, we support the implementation of the common elements for the student experience proposed by the Academic Innovation Planning Group and the Hampshire community, including:

  • Group advising
  • Cohort building
  • Peer mentoring
  • Collaborative learning
  • Restructuring of faculty organization to enable more transdisciplinary collaboration
  • Large-scale community engagement opportunities
  • Student cohort-based campus work initiatives (replacing Community-Engaged Learning CEL1), organized through a student and staff-led process
  • Scaffolded attention to students’ reflection on positionality in Division I and beyond. This includes support for creating a campus climate attuned to equity, in which students learn and share ways to reflect on their positionality and are supported in working across difference with their peers, while providing clear opportunities for students to identify and work to remedy exclusion
  • Initiatives to center and integrate attention to the college’s mission regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion, and accessibility most broadly
  • Integration between campus life and the academic program
  • Campus-wide Division I and Division II symposia that focus on student projects
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